3 Alternatives to the 12-Step Program

For decades, it’s been a popular belief that the only path to sobriety and recovery was through the Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs. The idea that AA or NA is the end-all-be-all of sobriety is collapsing.

The founders of the Alcoholic Anonymous program originated from a Christian Evangelical movement that was coined the Oxford Group.The 12-Step Program uses elements from this group such as self-examination and a belief in a “higher power”.

The program claims to accept all religions but they start their meetings off with a prayer, as well as push the idea that the only way to complete their 12-Steps and remain sober is that one must bow to some idea of a “higher power”.

There are a abundance of cases where judges and probation officers have forced addicts to attend AA/NA meeting as a requirement of their rehabilitation. Those who want secular settings are fighting back against the system.


The Robert Warner Case

In the state of New York in 1990, Atheist Robert Warner was mandated by his parole officer to attend AA meetings after being convicted of drunk driving. After two years of meeting this requirement, he started to object because of the deep Christian beliefs embedded in the 12-Step Program. Beliefs that he did not agree with.

In 1992, he filed a motion stating that the requirement of AA and the 12-Step Program were against his First Amendment Rights under the Establishment Clause. This motion was ruled against his judge, as his judge was the one that initially required him to attend the meetings.

The Ricky Inouye Case

Ricky Inouye, a self-proclaimed Buddhist, was incarcerated in Hawaii in 2000. Right before his release, Inouye had his lawyer send a letter asking the judge to not be placed in a religious-based program. He preferred a secular setting. Despite this, his parole officer failed to find a secular treatment program and maintained that attending AA/NA meetings were his only choice.

When Inouye failed to attend these meetings, he was sent back to prison for a probation violation. In 2003, Inouye filed a suit against his probation officer. He lost his case and died during the course of the lawsuit. His son appealed the case a few years later and won.

It’s been founded that it is against an American’s constitutional rights, the seperation of church and state, to force the AA/NA meetings for treatment.

3 Alternatives to the 12-Steps

Addicts need to be aware that they do have choices outside of AA and NA. Depending on the location, it may be difficult to find alternatives but most of these programs and groups do have online forums and communities to interact with others that are recovering.

They also encourage addicts to start up their own support groups under their organizations if one isn’t available in their area.

These are the most substantial support groups available.


1. Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

The Secular Organization for Sobriety was founded in 1985 by James Christopher, a recovering alcoholic. SOS is considered a non-professional support group that pledges to help those with any form of addiction to reach sobriety and have control over their choices.

The group believes that addiction thrives on isolation. Support group interactions can benefit sobriety.

They welcome all forms of belief and religion or lack thereof into their support group. They encourage any and all chosen paths to sobriety and SOS is anonymous.

Mission Statement: SOS empowers the individual to find and keep sobriety and/or abstinence. SOS offers a variety of recovery tools to assist new groups and individuals with beginning the process.

2. Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery)

SMART is another addiction recovery group that self-empowers the addict. They keep everyone up to date with scientific research regarding addiction to help evolve the ideas around recovery.

Their biggest goal is to employ self-empowerment and self-reliance while using a 4-Point Program..

SMART deals with any form of addiction as well. They include face-to-face meetings with addicts, around the world, and hold daily online meetings. Their strongest attribute is that they are recognized as a legitimate resource of substance abuse and addiction recovery by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Mission Statement: To support individuals who have chosen to abstain, or are considering abstinence from any type of addictive behaviors (substances or activities), by teaching how to change self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions; and to work towards long-term satisfaction and quality of life.

3. Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Women for Sobriety was created by Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick, an avid alcoholic. It’s an exclusive program for women.

Dr. Kirkpatrick believes that women need to approach their recovery different than men. Women have emotional needs that are often not met by the average drug program or treatment.

WFS is known to have a remarkable program for women and addiction. They incorporate their New Life Program that is based on their Thirteen Acceptance Statements. The Thirteen Acceptance Statements promote emotional growth.

Mission Statement: Women for Sobriety is an organization whose purpose is to help all women find their individual path to recovery through discovery of self, gained by sharing experiences, hopes, and encouragement with other women in similar circumstances. We are an abstinence-based self-help program for women facing issues of alcohol or drug addiction. Our “New Life Program” acknowledges the very special needs women have in recovery– the need to nurture feelings of self-value and self-worth and the desire to discard feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation.



There has been a myth globally that there is only one acceptable program to partake in to maintain sobriety. This lie has ruined the journey of healing for many of those that weren’t quite a right fit for the AA or NA program.

Progress in research on addiction and differing religious beliefs has caused hoards of recovering addicts to turn away from these programs and find alternatives to their treatment. Straying away from these traditions has helped several addicts preserve sobriety in a new light.


13 thoughts on “3 Alternatives to the 12-Step Program”

  1. Count me as one of those believers in the global myth you mentioned in your conclusion. In my mind, the religious recovery program was the only one to exist. I’ve always thought that a pity. Very informative and well-written piece!

    On a similar note, an anecdote:

    A few years ago I bowled with a good friend of mine and two popular local DJs, which was great for business. I got near-daily mentions for our store on the big local station, for free, because of the bowling team. Score. Well, they wanted me to join the ol’ Elks Lodge with ’em, to further enjoy my company and help me network, you know? Well, I read the by-laws for the Elks and in the swearing-in ceremony one must “pledge allegiance to a higher power.” They were open-minded enough to let you choose your own. I told them I swear no such allegiance. They said it was mandatory to be an Elk. I told them I was not Elk-en material.

    One of the higher ups, who had come to like me from my visits, told me to just “fake it,” like others have done. I told him to just “change it,” like others have done, or, really, no thanks. I never did become an Elk.

    I hope more institutions and programs become enlightened, like the programs you mentioned above. Being an Elk might have been fun for a while, but not at the expense of integrity.

    Again, kudos Case!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would have done exactly the same in your shoes. I don’t feel the need to bow to a higher power.

      AA/NA works for some and that’s great. Though the statistics they’ve been able to get (which is hard because it’s an anonymous program) was something sad like 2% that maintained sobriety.

      When I got sober, I didn’t have a support group to go to because I wasn’t interested in AA/NA. It’s a small town and they didn’t even offer that for awhile. A few people had to start it back up. It’s been over two years and I decided I need some sort of community outside of my family to connect with which is how I came up with this article. Unfortunately, I found a lot of blog posts with the same idea & some had the same programs so I wanted to spruce it up with the cases, the more knowledge on the subject the better. Especially for those that are on probation & parole. They are led to believe that’s their only choice. I don’t think that’s fair. I also did massive research on all the programs I found & these three were the most interesting & legit. I actually joined the forums on SOS & SMART.

      Thank you so much. You always leave great, engaging comments. It means the world to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Extremely well done and much needed! Will be linking here from an article on my site posting at 12:01 AM Eastern, 12/4 — “Climbing your Mountains YOUR way: Success Strategies (Different Strokes for Different Folks).
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

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